There has been much excitement recently regarding the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) — a pathbreaking commitment by the governments of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, East Timor and Malaysia to protect marine resources in the region known as the Coral Triangle, which is the most biodiverse marine area on the planet.

Since I’m a marine scientist who’s been working in the Coral Triangle for six years now, many people have asked me what the CTI means to me. When I hear the question, I immediately think about the local people I’ve worked with in Melanesia (Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands).

Many people in these countries lead subsistence lifestyles, rely on coral reefs for their livelihoods and have a long tradition of protecting their marine resources through tambu areas (marine areas protected by traditional law).

In recent years, people in Melanesia have become increasingly concerned about their food security, and locally managed marine areas for sustainable resource harvesting have spread like wildfire throughout the region, thanks to the tremendous foresight and leadership demonstrated by community leaders.

What is exciting to me about the CTI is that this on-the ground conservation is now supported by high level commitment from national governments. Dr. Derek Sikua, prime minister of the Solomon Islands, said it best:

We believe in the inter-generational aspect of the CTI — that these resources are available to our children and our grandchildren after we have gone from the surface of Mother Earth. Let us ensure that it will always be the livelihood of our people — past, present and future — that will motivate us and energize us to implement the ideals of this new-found entity. Let not the greed and selfishness and corruption divert our attention from the noble intentions of the CTI.  CTI is no longer an idea. CTI is no longer a concept. CTI is a reality in the CT6 countries.

In the Coral Triangle, we are hopeful that this high-level commitment will translate into nationally declared marine protected areas, which will not only reinforce and strengthen locally managed marine areas, but also increase the financial resources required to help local communities manage their marine resources for the long term.

I will know that the CTI has been successful when I hear local villagers talking about what the CTI has done for them. I hope those conversations are only a short time away.

(Image: Village leader from Tarobi locally managed marine area, Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Mark Godfrey/TNC.)

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